PRINT October 1971

The “Art and Technology” Exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum (Two Views): Corporate Art

ALL ART IMPLIES SOME TECHNOLOGY. But at what point does the working relationship between the artist and sophisticated technology preclude the synthesis of art? I suspect that the Los Angeles County Museum’s recent four-year project, culminating with the May 10–August 29 “Art & Technology” exhibition, provides a variety of clues.

Although certainly a problematic undertaking “Art & Technology” represents the most technically proficient exhibition of its kind to date. The enormous amount of money and organizational effort poured into A & T dwarfs by several magnitudes the preparation needed for any major art exhibition of traditional media. While this doesn’t necessarily make it better, it does make A & T more confusing, because the preparations in a sense become the art—and this is something that can be shared only fragmentarily with the viewer. For instance, I remember being served cocktails as banks of helium balloons, each trailing a red plastic A or T, floated overhead, while outside Rockne Krebs’ lasers pulsated through the dark. I’m sure the last was meant to be art and the other, opening night decoration, but in the heady atmosphere of Los Angeles that evening, both blended as a predictable background for corporation bigwigs, local socialites, art freaks, and sundry museum members. It really didn’t make any difference.

From the start there was something immensely immodest about Maurice Tuchman’s efforts. With varying financial support from 37 corporations, mostly situated in Southern California, Tuchman (LACM’s Curator of Modern Art) invited artists from all over the world to submit proposals. In the end, no Europeans, and few artists outside the New York City area were included. The selection procedure, usually a reasonable curatorial task, was in this case so Machiavellian and deviously competitive, that it ended in hard feelings for many rejected artists, some of whom waited many months for the questionable satisfaction of being formally rejected. A & T was essentially a contest where each participant not only had to pass Tuchman’s scrutiny and that of his technical advisors, but also had to satisfy various arbitrary qualifying criteria (technical, financial, and psychological) devised by managements of the supporting corporations. Even after lengthy collaborations, some artists never exhibited, either because working relations deteriorated or because no museum-oriented product was forthcoming.

What made A & T attractive originally was that each artist was given the opportunity to work with facilities and research assistance normally out of his reach. The collaboration period was set for three months with options for renewal if both parties so desired. Contractually the corporations agreed to an initial $7000 donation to the museum for planning, maintenance, and installation; artists received $20 per diem and $250 per week honorarium. Upwards of $14,000 was spent by each company on research, materials, and fabrication of the artist’s work. Arrangements were drawn up for subsequent ownership of the resulting works. On the whole these seem fair, since they were mainly to assuage the suspicions of artists who feared being ripped-off.

Early on, Tuchman and his assistants realized the strong political implications of their undertaking for the Art World. How many artists would willingly work within the bastions of Capitalism? Quite a few. But in his catalog introduction, Tuchman notes: “However, I suspect that if Art and Technology were beginning now instead of in 1967, in a climate of increased polarization and organized determination to protest against the policies supported by so many American business interests and so violently opposed by much of the art community, many of the same artists would not have participated.”

Once committed to the A & T project, none of the participating artists had a public word of criticism for it, although I suspect that more than one or two wondered if they had, in fact, been presented with a Trojan Horse. In reality the notion of the artist as a symbol of political avant gardism and independence is tenuous. By its nature, art depends upon social compliance and cooperation. Whether an artist uses the local museum or I.B.M., he is equally in the hands of the financial establishment—how far he becomes enmeshed is just a matter of conscience and practicality.

A & T in Los Angeles has three interesting aspects: a) Tuchman’s strategies for meeting some tricky sociopolitical situations; b) the catalog as the most revealing document yet published on the art and technology symbiosis; and c) the exhibition itself. The exhibition is almost an afterthought to three years of intensive public relations and volatile associations between artists, Big Business, and the Museum. Some of the most subversive and interesting “works” never appeared, although they are occasionally alluded to in the catalog. Generally, the catalog records a sizeable collection of correspondence and recollections. In some instances the corporations appear shoddy as, less occasionally, do the artists. And while both may blame the museum for bad-mouthing, the degree of candidness is unusual for a museum document and is to the editors’ credit. Yet in print Tuchman and the museum appear unscathed and free from soul-searching, although from what I understand there were a certain number of rejected artists who, with no editorial control over the use of their proposals or correspondence, had an entirely different slant on what went on behind the scenes in Los Angeles. One would therefore deduce that candidness is self-serving unless it is vented in all directions.

On a subtler level, the entire A & T selection process represents an elaborate attempt to avoid being mousetrapped by the shifting predilections of the Art World. As lessons in what not to do, Tuchman had the examples of virtually every previous art and technology exhibition. By the end of 1968 so-called Teckart had begun to look less and less like a hot item. Consequently Tuchman deliberately ignored many of the more established technology-oriented artists for high art Superstars. In terms of art politics this makes sense, but in reality the idea of choosing even the best artists and fabricators to make and exhibit art together is laden with innumerable dangers. Predictably the Superstars come off well when they do their regular thing, while they appear banal when involved with unfamiliar technology.

Whether out of political conviction or paranoia, elements in the Art World tend to see latent fascist esthetics in any liaison with giant industries; it is permissible to have your fabrication done by a local sheet-metal shop, but not by Hewlett-Packard. The real issues are mostly personal, since some corporate research centers demand an inordinate degree of regimentation, far more than most artists want, even temporarily. This very serendipity by the artists is what makes most art and technology exhibitions unmitigated disasters. The disciplined engineers, on the other hand, sensing their indispensability, salve their egos with demands for more money or better billing. Tuchman has wisely bypassed these problems by insuring that the engineers were still, in effect, working for their corporations. A & T should therefore remain in functioning order.

The lack of West Coast names connected to the A & T project (ultimately Newton Harrison was the only one) marks another potential pitfall. Tuchman might have involved some of the younger, more experimental talent out there. But with all the chips in the pot, he went for New York. The possibility of a local boycott or picket line was expediently defused at the last minute by a double opening that included a hastily organized second exhibition of local talent entitled “24 Young Los Angeles Artists.”

In my estimation Tuchman’s greatest unseen feat was the ability to con so many large businesses into sizeable financial commitments. Except for brief mention in the catalog—with no stress on the particular products of the sponsors—the corporations receive relatively little mileage from A & T. Speaking from sad personal experience, corporations axiomatically measure all such outlays to “the further dimensions,” to use John Kenneth Galbraith’s delicate phrase, down to the last tax-exempt dollar. Public relations agencies handling art-industry ventures could learn something about subtler hard sell from the Los Angeles County Museum.

No doubt “humanist” art critics are going to pan A & T as another marriage of convenience with industry that fails to measure up to Henry Geldzahler’s exalted view of the last 30 years. However, like Dr. Johnson’s remarks on the virtues of singing dogs, defending A & T as the “best exhibition of its kind” is also questionable. In any case, due to the peculiar sociopolitical malaise that has gradually engulfed the United States, this show probably will be the last technological attempt for a while. If presented five years ago, A & T would have been difficult to refute as an important event, posing some hard questions about the future of art. Given the effects of a Republican recession, the role of large industry as an intransigent beneficiary of an even more intractable federal government, and the fatal environmental effects of most of our technologies, few people are going to be seduced by three months of industry-sponsored art—no matter how laudable the initial motivation. Certainly painting and sculpture do nothing to alleviate these conditions, but at least they are less exasperating since they avoid unpleasant juxtapositions.

The best thing to emerge from E.A.T.’s Pepsi-Cola pavilion at Expo 70 was Calvin Tomkins’ long and marvelously droll account of the misalliance in The New Yorker. With not quite the same degree of intentional humor, Maurice Tuchman has put together a catalog entitled A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1967–1971. The volume appears in the form of a shareholder’s report, with the dimensions of a medium-sized telephone book. It is what the Germans call a Gesamtkunstwerk, a kind of Ring Cycle embracing everything from the anguished cries of artists enmeshed in corporate insensitivity and neglect to careful financial overviews of The State of the Project. Its genesis is Tuchman’s introduction:

During late ‘66 and early ‘67, I began studying the nature and location of corporate resources in California. In November, 1967, I went to the Museum’s Board of Trustees, members of which were significantly involved with over two dozen West Coast companies, to outline my proposal and to elicit advice and support. As individual entrepreneurs, the Board members were rather indifferent to the experiment . . .

But after various accomplishments, credited mainly to the backing of Missy Chandler,

In April, 1968, I met with the Board of Trustees for the second time to deliver a progress report. I anticipated that we could enlist the financial support of at least twenty corporations, to the amount of $140,000 as a straight donation to the Museum for use as needed in operating the program––to cover artists’ payments, transportation and installation costs. According to my prospectus these twenty companies additionally would each take an artist into residence. I requested $70,000 from the Museum as its share in supporting Art and Technology for the 1968–69 fiscal year. (Perhaps unconsciously, I had adopted the businessman’s strategy—but in reverse ratio.) The Board sanctioned the plan, provided that I obtain written agreements from ten corporations before announcing the program officially. I drew up a contract which took into account three different kinds of corporation participation.

In passing, Tuchman reveals certain necessary spin-offs:

During the past six months, we have made numerous preliminary contacts with corporation presidents in California. These discussions have served to corroborate our feeling that the advantages to participating corporate concerns are manifold. Since the project will be fully documented by CBS television for a network special, as well as being systematically publicized through other media, promotional benefits to industries can be considerable. It is expected that collaborating technical personnel may gain experience directly valuable to the corporation, as indeed has already occurred in the plastics industry. All expenses, including corporation staff time and materials are tax deductible; in addition, Patron Sponsors will have the option to receive a work of art issuing from this collaboration. In many cases, the art works will exceed in value the total expense of the corporation’s contribution.

Obviously he’s letting it all hang out. A few excerpts front Tuchman’s letters to corporate heads exude superlatives and breathless details of media coups, with mention of “breakthroughs” and “lastingly significant works.” Some time ago, to the strenuous objections of the artists concerned, I suggested that Seth Siegelaub was the best of the Conceptualists. Quite similarly, in A & T Tuchman is the most skillful technologist.

Jane Livingston and Gail Scott are responsible for much of the best writing in the catalog. In her essay “Thoughts on Art and Technology,” Miss Livingston gives a clear analysis of the various historical premises that have controlled art and industry collaboratives. She then identifies prevailing philosophies of artists involved in A & T: “First there is the approach taken by those artists interested basically in industrial or industrial-mechanical fabrication. Second is that” relating to the use of more esoteric technological media; and finally, that marked by a participatory, informational esthetic without primary regard for object-making." One of the lures used to bring artists and industries together is the outside chance of developing some new process or marketable product. If this appears naive, there is also the possibility that the artist could act as a kind of randomizing agent, dislodging the habit patterns of think tanks and corporation research. On the whole, artists are too perverse and technically uninformed to function in this capacity. According to Miss Livingston, there was never any real symbiosis between the two groups—except for the occasional development of a personal friendship. Corporations do not find artists sufficiently valuable either to buy off or to subvert. Nevertheless a decisive ideological schism between the artist and the corporate technocrat is obvious in many of the artists’ attitudes. Richard Serra writes:

Technology is a form of tool making (body extensions). Technology is not art—not invention. It is a simultaneous hope and hoax. It does not concern itself with the undefined, the inexplicable: it deals with the affirmation of its own making. Technology is what we do to the Black Panthers and the Vietnamese under the guise of advancement in a materialistic theology.

Boyd Mefferd observes that,

Individual flair seems to have been lost somewhere in corporate thinking, and nobody in these companies seems to feel much compulsion to do anything with much style. Probably they look to artists for that sort of thing now. Maybe artists will be the last of the big time spenders. Companies seem to have forgotten about the value of independent operators. Obviously they hire people who have little interest in independence, and nobody seems to remember that the men who started our giant corporations were all small and independent, more like artists than the people who run the companies now.

And Kitaj, the most literary of the artists, reminisces about his stay at Lockheed:

Thinking about it now, so much seems so funny, so ridiculous; maybe that’s got to be one of the best results: walking down endless corporate corridors each day, back and forth, miles of modern hallways, wearing a badge or two badges, carrying all kinds of important plans and papers. . . . Then when the hallways reach the more executive parts, the floors become nicely carpeted and indirectly-lit old prints and photos of early primitive aircraft, seaplanes, nostalgic passenger planes like from Lost Horizon spaced along the walls. And the kind of fake and ultimately meaningless (for my own life) encounter over those weeks with the really enormous tidal wave of machinery and a massive technology I could never hope to approach intelligently let alone fathom. Maybe the heart of the experience lies there for me—a confirmation of the utter boredom I always feel when art and science try to meet—that is to say, the feeling of very slender accomplishment in those forms of art which pretend to operate scientifically.

Since art and technology only coalesce on the most trivial levels, we might ask ourselves if it is because of a fundamental difference of method and purpose between the two. Both, in a concrete sense, operate as evolving sign systems—and this accounts for much of the confusion. Invention and change seem to be as natural to art as to technology. But as I have previously tried to show (see The Structure of Art, Braziller, 1971, and “Unveiling the Consort” in Artforum, March and April, 1971) the sense of change or advancement in art is illusionary, and I suspect the same is true for technology. Our ideas concerning the limitations and meaning of technology are still naively optimistic. Within the present socioeconomic structure we tend to look at technology as an open ended source of exploitative activity; yet it becomes increasingly apparent that sophisticated technology can only be conducted under strictly adhered to principles. We know little about these and have even less chance of using them under present conditions. The artist intuitively, if not consciously, feels this—just as he knows that the creation of art is a process representing that missing conceptual and physical stability.

Richard Serra comes out relatively unscathed in the A & T venture. He remains close to formulas proven successful for his past art. In the Museum’s central plaza, one-inch thick upright steel plates are slotted into solid steel columns laying on the cement; structurally, his piece is elegantly daring but for my tastes it begins to appear too formally arranged for Process Art. Serra worked in the Kaiser Steel stockyard directing heavy-duty moving equipment, and photographs of this in the catalog appear considerably more exciting, but apparently this work was impossible to move to the Museum. During the opening, at the rear of the museum, Serra directed construction of two semicircular retaining walls of sheet steel keyed into buried concrete footings. I did not stay to see it finished, but one gathers that he is interested in the contours of the steel wall in relation to the surrounding sloping ground.

The plaza also houses an unabashed Cummins V-470 engine “modified” by Jean Dupuy. According to the artist’s symbolism, operation of the engine produces evidence of the four prime elements: fire, earth, water, and air. These are revealed by glass sleeves and containers displaying internal functions. Jane Livingston remarks that Dupuy’s relationship With the sponsoring company was one of the most friendly and rewarding during the A & T project. Often this seems to be the only advantage of such collaboration, since the resulting products are so inconsequential.

Tuchman devotes 30 catalog pages to Claes Oldenburg’s kinetic Icebag. The piece occupies an honored outdoor position, and the curator is quite serious in asserting that “to have an artist of Oldenburg’s importance and prestige working under the project was critical at this early moment. . . .” As presiding Superstar, Oldenburg was kept very visible for the opening. Actually I’ve seen few things as absurd as a group of businessmen intently watching a 16-foot simulated icebag, driven by a metal cap attached to an almost scrotumlike bag, undulate. There is no earthly reason why an icebag should move, and perhaps this is what he is trying to say in a more general sense about art.

While Oldenburg’s drawings of common objects dominating entire city blocks are entirely successful, they seem to lose their artistry when actually installed in public places (I’m thinking here of both the Yale Giant Lipstick and the A & T Icebag). In this environment the scale lacks a necessary gigantic quality; the works become less overwhelmingly banal and simply stereotypes of contemporary high art. Success does spoil Claes Oldenburg.

A & T’s Rain Machine is undoubtedly the strangest and least unified Warhol ever. Two overhead sprinkler pipes, animated by a small cam mechanism, pour sheets of water into a trough. The entire unit is exposed, including Teflon recycling hoses. Daisy panels, supposedly 3-D, are in the background; water drops into plastic grass. This sounds rather phlegmatic, but that’s the way it looks. The machine has some of the perverse antinaturalism one finds in the little Polaroid mechanism controlling the waterfall in Duchamp’s Etant donnés. . . . There the waterfall is deliberately mechanized and predestined not to work as art. (One also remembers the tableau of rain falling on false grass which Duchamp designed for the Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Maeght in 1947.) Could Warhol have shared the same intention?

As painters, Oyvind Fahlstrom and R. B. Kitaj have never inspired my admiration. Fahlstrom’s plastic figures for A & T are a loss, but Kitaj has produced a room-sized homage to the history of industry and “progress” which possesses considerable wit and charm. Fahlstrom suffers from literary aspirations in the same way that Kitaj seems to be able to use his. In this case Fahlstrom has plugged into the characters of R. Crumb from Zap Comix. His sign company fabrications do nothing for the R. Crumb mystique and less for Fahlstrom.

As a painter, Kitaj epitomizes the bricoleur, the collector of disparate objects and impressions who welds them together into new syntheses. Kitaj’s room evades precise description. It poses a kind of nostalgic juxtaposition between 19th-and early 20th-century Big Industry and the artistic spin-offs from these pioneer form-makers: photographs of early modern sculptors studios, models of factory chimneys and mine shafts, a wall tapestry both faintly oriental and de Stijl, stills from early constructivist movies, wooden precision models of machine parts, photographs of early American and British World War II aviation, mottos of virtue for the working classes, computer drawings and countless strange artifacts and pictures. Possibly these selections lack individual significance, but together they evoke a faintly humorous and philosophical overview of the entire A & T business. It begins to make up for the intense seriousness of everything else, in a way representing the psychic summation of an illusion.

Few really interesting “art and industry” projects are inexpensive. Many of the best A & T proposals were rejected due to excessive cost (from $25,000 to over $1,000,000). Other projects were not considered by the sponsoring corporation because they involved too many subcontractors. Still, I suspect that several projects went beyond the proposed $15,000 mark—the Oldenburg sculpture and the Whitman mirror environment come to mind. Few people, unless directly involved, have a clear conception of the escalation of costs once an artist decides to move away from basic shop fabrication or modified assembly-line products.

It seems certain that little major art lends itself to conversion of mediums—the medium is essential to the art. A painful example is Roy Lichtenstein’s three closed-loop movies. Two movies consist of split-images, Ben Day dots above and naturalistic scenes showing a sunny sky with a few clouds and a close-up of rather gentle waves below. A third split image film reveals swimming goldfish and flying seagulls. The separations between the top and bottom images rock soothingly from side to side. The imposition of dots appears contrived; by now these are simply a Lichtenstein trademark. They have nothing to do with modifying the context of this particular content. Esthetically, these movies are designed to function as two connected subsets, but again, mechanics and electrified motion defeat the intentions of art. Lichtenstein’s taste is so often infallible; I don’t see how he could have gotten mixed up with this.

During the Fall of 1968 Jane Livingston and I both had a chance to see the Magic Theater in Kansas City, and we were particularly impressed with Boyd Mefferd’s Strobe-Lighted Floor. His contribution to A & T is a brighter, more aggressive version of the earlier piece. Now his strobes fire as complete walls of light. The afterimages are incredibly intense; outlines in the room are etched on the retinas for up to 15 or 20 seconds. Flashes occur soon enough after each other so that one begins to carry several superimposed images of the room simultaneously. The constant shift between afterimage and brilliantly illuminated normal image is both hallucinatory and disorienting—by far the strongest and cleanest effect of its kind. Mefferd’s Walls are an obvious crowd-pleaser, the absolute limit in the contrast between black and white. Gradually I, as well as others, felt disoriented and nauseous. Mefferd plans to do another room with more strobes, both more powerful and more dependable. Art has something hallucinatory about it, permitting the mind to wander and trip; here the tripping is essentially physicochemical. Of all the effects in A & T, Mefferd’s is the most decisive, a kind of Op Art overkill.

Robert Rauschenberg’s Mud-Muse consists of a 9-foot by 12-foot glass tank of tan-colored viscous drillers’ mud. Air jets cause the mud to bubble intermittently, while the sounds produced play back through loudspeakers. I understand this is connected to a double feedback. The location and intensity of the bubbles is (or was supposed to be) controlled by four microphones placed above the spectators. A frequency separating device divides the resulting noise into four channels, each connected to eight air holes. One of the designers at Teledyne, Frank LaHaye, noted:

It is also planned, though the details have not been resolved, to have a number of special sound tracks playing from under the piece. Selection of one or more sound tracks would tie in with the electronic selector system controlling the pneumatic valves. Typical sounds might include the surf, an owl, the wind, musical notes, etc.

I recall only a few successful works employing audiovisual feedback principles. Usually though these included a deliberately organized circuit between content, signal, and playback. Often some aspect of the situation is converted into a different signal form, thus allowing the spectator some further insight into his personal condition. Nothing of that nature takes place here. Actually, preprogrammed tapes were used to control the piece. The signal has little or nothing to do with the activities of the mud. In effect, Mud-Muse is a glorified music box. But if this were all Rauschenberg wanted, why the elaborate console? The same signals could have been generated through a tape deck, speakers, and a hundred dollars worth of electronic parts. I don’t particularly mind the spectacle of bubbling mud—although the TV scenes of Mt. Etna lava were far more impressive—but I resent unnecessary mystification. It seems that a few days after the opening a group of kids did incredible wall paintings with the driller’s mud in the Rauschenberg room: pictures, graffiti, wiped-out writing, even mud spattered on the ceiling. The results looked not unlike some of the best early Rauschenberg paintings, very gutsy, playful, and involved. In a sense the kids were using mud without pretensions, the way it should be used. Tuchman had the room cleaned up immediately.

Robert Whitman’s mirror room involves a similar blurring of purpose. The room is roughly circular, shaped by four-foot high partitions of corner reflector mirrors. These serve to obscure parts of four surrounding sets of cylinder mirrors which reflect visual images in space towards the viewers. The images are projected from slide projectors behind the corner-reflectors. John Forkner, a physicist and the artist’s collaborator at Philco-Ford, had previously tried to use the corner-reflector mirrors to make pseudoscopic images, but after some experimentation these proved to have drawbacks. So the mirror room consists of two unrelated phenomena: the corner reflector walls providing a multiple reflection of the spectator, and changing overhead pseudoscopic images.

Whitman’s room would have been stronger without the lower corner-reflectors and most of the overhead lighting. The scale of the room might have been kept the same by simply increasing the size of the cylinder mirrors, although this may not have been technically feasible. One chronic difficulty with visual “environments” is the disruptive effect caused by crowds. Two or three people fit Whitman’s space ideally. Ten or fifteen destroy its subtle illusionism.

Tony Smith’s corrugated cardboard “sculpture” is actually interior architecture. Smith remains one of the few consistently interesting formalists. The cavernlike structure for A & T assembles thousands of tetrahedral modules. If one can imagine Frank Lloyd Wright constructing a fantasy in lightweight blocks on a triangular grid, the results might not be too different. This is not to belittle Smith; his handling of these spatial juxtapositions is masterly. Earlier, for the Expo 70 exhibition, a different structure was planned using slotted and tabbed modules. These proved unsatisfactory, so the module faces were glued together. Still the A & T structure had to be suspended from the ceiling by fine wires; both Smith and the crew of architecture students who put up the piece had very uneasy feelings about this. Made to work with the right materials, this is conceivably one of the best large-scale sculptures to date.

Printing thousands of tapes reading, “putting byars in the hudson institute is the artistic product” was one of James Lee Byars’ first gestures as sole member of the World Question Center. In this case Maurice Tuchman was the artist; he made the choice, and Byars would be the first to give him the credit. Ostensibly Byars was sent to Herman Kahn’s think tank to delve into the processes of exhaustively organized, high-level thinking. Hudson Institute is a place where seminars on the entire spectrum of global problems and possibilities are conducted almost daily. But as it turned out, Byars the artist and Kahn’s strategic thinkers had very little in common. A Hudson staff member commented on the general air of hostility; “A lot of square people . . . felt that what Jim was doing was a waste of his time and their time.” In the months that passed, little significant interaction occurred, except for highly lengthy conversations with Herman Kahn who, according to Byars, did not want to be pressed too seriously.

“Why are we bothering with Jim? After all, I want the organization to run right. The presence of someone like Jim is theoretically subversive of that goal,” was Kahn’s mixed attitude towards the artist. According to Byars, posing questions is in itself subversive, and posing questions to people who pose questions is even more so. His hundreds of calls from the Institute were directed to thinkers all over the country, asking for their single most important unanswered question. The resulting list of 100 questions is remarkably nonacademic and mainly an assortment of the artist’s ruminations; they are, in his words, “questions to delight my consciousness.” Art, according to Byars, is “persuade me?” A good example is “How do you placate X?,” or “If you ask for something that doesn’t exist you deserve it on the intelligence of the request?,” or “Imagine being possessive of a question?” If you ask Byars why so many of his questions are not worded in interrogative form, his answer is “Who knows what a question is?”

Byars is the only live A & T project, a human computer wearing a red derby in a gold-painted room. Incorrigibly friendly and unassuming, Byars was attempting to hand out gold typed copies of his “100 Questions.” While failing to penetrate the veneer of rationalism that pervades the Hudson Institute, Byars is making art, and with considerably more wit and insight than most of his colleagues. In a sense he represents a much older type of artist, the shaman. Byars is the art, just as his activities induce art experiences into people’s lives. Before leaving the Los Angeles Museum, Byars planned to lend his name and red hat, thus producing a new Jim Byars to hand out the “100 Questions.” “Why not?” he insisted, “in many primitive cultures giving a man your clothing is, in effect, giving him your name.”

Possibly the most beguiling example of Teckart at the A & T exhibition is Newton Harrison’s series of glow-emitting plexiglass columns. Five of them are randomly situated in a darkened room. They are each ceiling-height neon tubes of approximately one-foot diameter. Working with Jet Propulsion Laboratory over a period of a year, Harrison assisted in the development of power supplies, electrodes, and a gas injection system to produce various colored light and wave phenomena. The ionized gases—helium, neon, argon, etc.—emit a wide variety of spectral effects, only a few of which are in the exhibition. Concerning one color configuration with a separated rose and white glow, the artist writes:

. . . just what Rothko was dreaming about. I knew what he was doing. . . . He was trying to make paint do what paint could never do, although he got his work to cast a light. The far tube to the right I really made a sort of private homage to Rothko. . . . If you looked at the shape on the top, it was a Rothko type shape, a Rothko color shape, a Rothko intensity shape and it was surrounded by a dark field.

Harrison’s environment is mysteriously evocative, partly because of its simplicity. But the question—is it art?—still lingers.

If one stops to analyze the implied attitudes of most of the A & T artists to technology, the outlook for any future rapprochement between the two is dismal indeed: Serra actively hates the Technostructure; Warhol continues to tell us that technology is a human; Whitman beguiles us with trick optics; Kitaj insists that technology is a campy myth; Oldenburg points out (with an illuminated billboard across the street from his Icebag reading: “Art shall hang”) that technology has already swallowed us up; Rauschenberg is still trying to figure out what to do with technology; Mefferd is proving that technology can sear your eyeballs; and so it goes. There is so little here not implicitly antagonistic or disparaging of the effects of technology. I hope the business moguls who supported this exhibition get the message, because what the artists are saying is simply this: no one believes that American corporate interests, controlling the overwhelming portion of our technology, have any real sense of social responsibility or direction.

At its most essential level, technology serves the same purpose as art: it is simply a means of providing systemic relationships between social units and the environment. Both contain proscriptions and interdictions found in any language system. And while not inherently antagonistic to each other, after four hundred years of gradual separation, they tend to show certain irreconcilable differences in method. In art, and with all premodern technologies, there exists an unalterable reciprocity with nature. The tradeoff between natural law and human law is recognized and protected by the way things are successfully accomplished. The technologies of the American Indians reveal this consciousness. Successful technologies possess the mark of social consensus—they cannot be forced upon people by corporate pressure to consume or to obey the engines of progress. The consensus to use a technology comes out of a period of trial and error as people decide if it is ultimately beneficial or deleterious to them.

At its roots art acknowledges the existence of certain unchanging patterns to natural processes. All successful technologies, such as farming, recognize these cyclical structures. As a cosmic indication of the art process, Marcel Duchamp labeled the plans for The Large Glass as an “Apparatus, instrument for farming.” In the creation of art one encounters the same cycle of fallowness, planting, growth, and harvest. In contrast, few modern technologies lend themselves to these patterns of repetition and replenishment.

One outstanding exception at the A & T exhibition is Newton Harrison’s “Eco System of the Western Salt Works (with the inclusion of brine shrimp).” Working with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Harrison constructed four redwood troughs containing varying solutions of brine and sea water. To each was added algae and brine shrimp eggs. Both the shrimp and algae are forced to adapt to the environment, that is, to differences in the brine solutions. At maturity the shrimp will be harvested. Gradually through the summer the water in the tubs will turn red, yellow-orange, yellow-green, and green, respectively, due to the effects of the salt on the algae. At the end of the summer the artist plans to harvest close to 2750 pounds of salt from 2850 gallons of brine and seawater. Harrison remarked that he likes the idea of working with minimal technology, of “farming” and “harvesting” his art. While this may be construed as systems art, or art which is structured to complete a natural growth pattern, many in the Art World would dismiss it as simple ecological experimentation. What is important, of course, is whether or not Harrison’s work conforms to the structural principles of art. If it does, then he has made a profound commentary on the technical hopes and failures of our culture.

Jack Burnham